Tuesday, 10 December 2013 00:00
Given the way last week went, one would be led to believe that the annual Baseball Winter Meetings had already begun. Well, as we all know, they haven’t. Sunday was a bit of a respite from transaction mania as team officials made their way to Orlando for the start of the meetings, so it’s a good time to recap what has been accomplished thus far and to discuss where some of the teams will go from here.
So far the Orioles have dealt away their closer of the past two years and added a few starting second base candidates in the forms of Jemile Weeks and Cord Phelps to battle Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty. It would not be surprising to see the team further address second base with a free agent signing and to address some power needs by adding a veteran to be their designated hitter.
Tommy Hunter is slated to close after his first entire season in relief. It was also his first with a 6-plus K/9 (7.1), but he pounded the strike zone with a 1.5 BB/9. They might just stick with him and spend their money elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, the Red Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk with the intention of installing Jackie Bradley in his place. Bradley has above average tools and a solid approach at the plate. He projects as a potential 10 to 15 HR/20-plus SB type player who could potentially hit for average and a good OBP.
More surprisingly, the Sox opted to retain Mike Napoli. When a hitter produces a .367 BABIP to hit .259, there’s a high regression risk (see 2012). The Red Sox went stop-gap with A.J. Pierzynski. Not noted for his OBP (Napoli hitting .220 will have a higher OBP), but even at age 37, a player with his contact skills and solid pop for his position are still worth $10-plus on AL-only draft day. Note, however, that the change in venue could push his HR power perhaps to the lower teens.
Xander Bogaerts will be taking over at SS with Drew departing, but they do remain interested in upgrading at 3B after Will Middlebrooks’ lost season. The right-hander’s undisciplined plate approach caught up with him and could have him back in the Minors full-time in 2014.
With a rotation that automatically places the Sox as challengers for the title, they focused on the bullpen by signing Eduardo Mujica to set up and as a backup plan for Koji Uehara. The 29-year-old is a strike-throwing, pitch to contact/ground-ball pitcher and has found success doing so for the past five straight seasons. Yet keep in mind he left over 86% of runners on base and still only produced a 2.78 ERA. For more traditional closers, this would have been closer to 2.0 if not under.
The Yankees would not cave to Robinson Cano’s demands and instead signed both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann while also bringing in Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson. Beltran, once the best centerfielder in the game, has become more of a liability due to his decreased range, and not surprisingly, he has not been a stolen base threat of any note since 2008. At 37, he’s a mid-twenties or better HR threat in Yankee Stadium.
Hiroki Kuroda has returned for another season while Phil Hughes has moved to Minnesota. Kuroda, notably, has essentially produced one of the most consistent five-year stretches of any pitcher around with K/9’s hovering around 7, walk rates around 2.0, BABIPs in the .280s, and ERAs around the 3.3 mark. It is hard to suggest much else different will occur. It is notable, though that his K/.9 has decreased each of the past four seasons (though to be fair so has his BB/9). Still a mid-teens AL-only buy at age 39 in 2014.
The upshot of all this activity is that the Yankees may still be one of the more active teams going forward. In the outfield, they have Brett Gardner/Ellsbury/Beltran with Alfonso Soriano at DH while Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells both sit on the bench. Gardner, 30, is arbitration eligible, but is coming off of a $2.85 M salary and is the most attractive trade candidate. Both Johnson and Eduardo Nunez are currently penciled in as starters, but are both more suited to bench roles, so these are the likely areas the Yanks will explore in the trade and free agent market. Nick Franklin of the Mariners, who was displaced by Cano, actually makes a lot of sense. Michael Pineda was never healthy enough to pitch in the Majors in 2013, so it is also possible the Yankees will add another arm to fill the fifth starter’s slot at some point this offseason.
The Rays have exercised contract options on Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, re-signed David DeJesus and Jose Molina for two more years and more notably, acquired both Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell via trade. Hanigan, 33, is coming off of a .198/.306/.261 campaign. At best, he’s an end-game catcher who might hit .260 to .270 for you over 300 or so plate appearances. Heath Bell comes into Tampa as the favorite to close on Opening Day. He regained his strikeout skils in Arizona as well as his control, but developed an acute case of gopheritis and has had back-to-back seasons of BABIPs around .340.
Zobrist is actually a fair candidate for a power bounce-back season in 2014 given almost no change in batting approach or where he hit the ball, just a fluctuation on HR/FB. A return to the upper teens or low twenties is quite possible. Yunel Escobar displays good contact and OBP skills and a bit of pop, but paltry fly-ball rate and high ground-ball rates continue to hold him back from the performances of his Atlanta days. A two-year deal, let alone a one-year non-minor league contract to a post-prime David DeJesus is a bit astonishing. The lefty has never had a standout tool and his ability to hit for average and get on base vanished after 2010.
The big elephant in the room is what, if anything, the Rays will do with David Price and what level of haul they might receive in return. The move would certainly have an impact on the Opening Day rotation (insert Odorizzi) but could also have substantial impacts on the starting lineup too as the Rays would benefit from shifting Zobrist back to 2B and adding a 1B and moving DeJesus out of the starting outfield. This could be the most interesting move of the week, so keep an eye out.
The Blue Jays are no strangers to making a big splash after revamping their entire roster last year only to suffer critical injuries and ineffectiveness. For now, the starting lineup is largely the same as last season with Adam Lind’s option exercised while J.P. Arencibia was non-tendered (now with Texas) and Dioner Navarro signed to replace him. Navarro, nearly 30, has always been a fairly disciplined hitter who made good contact, but never saw his power develop until last year with the Cubs when he hit .300/.365/.492 while making contact nearly 87% of the time. It should be noted that Navarro had to hit line drives a quarter of the time to hit .300 and is generally more of a ground-ball hitter than a fly-ball hitter, so while Navarro may be a solid start for the Jays in 2013, expect him to come back to earth especially as he receives more consistent exposure to MLB pitching.
Josh Johnson was allowed to depart, and now the Jays will apparently let pitchers such as Kyle Drabek (returning from TJS) audition for the fifth spot. With much of their prospect depth utilized last off-season and the roster pretty much intact and actually still having quite a bit of potential to push for a playoff spot, it would be surprising to see the Jays extremely active other than in small moves the rest of the off-season.
Monday, 02 December 2013 00:00
While it had been noted that the Twins were interested in Ricky Nolasco, it was surprising when they actually opened their pocketbooks wider than ever before to land the righty. Prior to acquiring Nolasco, Josh Willingham had been essentially the only outside multi-year signing of significance in quite some time. Yes, the Twins have given multi-year contracts to players already on their roster fairly frequently over the past decade, but this signing may signal a change in the way the Twins conduct business. Well, to perhaps prove a point they went out and signed Phil Hughes to a three-year pact while I was putting together this piece.
Nolasco will headline a rotation that currently includes Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno, and a battle between Kyle Gibson, Vance Worley, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks and Andrew Albers for the fifth spot. It’s still possible the Twins will sign a third pitcher to try and add more stability.
As for Nolasco, who will turn 31 later this month, he is coming of a solid season of once again displaying above average control, matching his career mark in walks allowed (2.1 BB/9) while bouncing back in the swing and misses department with a 7.5 K/9. When going through Nolasco’s velocity and typical pitch selection, there is barely a difference between his 2013 performance and his 2012 (and the rest of his career), which helps to make his 2012 5.9 K/9 fortunately look like an outlier.
In recent seasons, Nolasco has done a better job of keeping the ball on the ground and has been particularly adept at keeping it in the park too, not having posted a 10% or higher HR/FB since 2010. Regardless, Nolasco’s ERA has indeed fluctuated quite a bit over the years with 2013 being the first time he’s posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2008. That was only the second time the former Marlin has accomplished that feat over his career despite consistently showing superior skills that would suggest he should be producing at a higher level with a consistently sub-4.00 ERA. Perhaps moving to a more competitive environment will help?
For now, Nolasco’s record suggests he is a #2 starter at best and better as an innings-eater number three, yet he will serve in the “ace” role for the Twins, going head to head with the top pitchers in other organizations while having to face the DH on a regular basis. So overall, while I want to say his 2013 level of play is sustainable, especially with better bullpen support than he had in most of his Marlin years, it would be overly optimistic to pay for a sub-4.00 ERA given his history and the changes he will be facing.
Phil Hughes, once considered perhaps the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, found himself a free agent at age 27. The righty had a similar season to 2012 with respect to maintaining a solid K/9 (7.5) while throwing strikes (2.6 BB/9), but once again dealt with long-ball issues (11% of the time) as well as an elevated BABIP of .324. On Hughes' side are his youth, reasonable health and base skills, but that really doesn't tell the whole story. A move to a smaller market/lower scrutiny situation could help, but that’s purely subjective. What Hughes needs to do to produce results that not only make him viable for fantasy purposes, but keep him in the Twins’ rotation, is to reduce the number of long balls. Target Field will aid Hughes a little bit in that respect, but mostly it will be on Hughes and his ability to improve his secondary pitches. He scrapped his curve in favor of a sub-standard slider last year and really has never had much of a changeup. For now, Hughes has not shown any signs of a breakthrough and is more likely to produce a 5-plus ERA than a sub-4.00 ERA in 2014 barring suddenly throwing a fastball with some movement, developing his changeup and/or finding a true out pitch. For now, he slots in as the Twins' number two starter, but Kevin Correia and perhaps in time, Kyle Gibson, should both be ahead of him.
After a very middling season, Dan Haren re-upped with the Nationals for a single season, perhaps in an attempt to rebound and profit it off to a larger degree as a free agent in 2015. From a numbers perspective, Haren was pretty much his usual self, posting an 8+ K/9 and sub 2.0 BB/9. Still, the righty has posted two straight seasons of 4-plus ERAs, including his 2013 4.60 mark, thanks in part to giving up homers at a high rate. Haren has now given up home runs around 13% of the time on fly balls allowed each of the past two seasons. To add to the misery, Haren also posted by far his highest fly ball rate of his career in 2013 at 42% contrasted against his 37% career mark!
A few things may be going on here. First and foremost, Haren has indeed lost velocity over the years. The former Diamondback was around 91 to 92 earlier in his career and decreased to around 90 mph later on, but now has averaged under 89 mph on his fastball each of the last two years. In other words, Haren continues to pound the zone, throwing strikes, but does it with a slower fastball and perhaps not as sharp in-the-zone command, which leads to the long ball.
Haren has now failed to top 200 innings since 2011 and is now 33 years of age. While some improvement on an elevated HR/FB% rate could help lower his ERA a bit, unless he is somehow fully healthy and increases his arm strength, it seems unlikely that he will experience a dramatic rebound and should be treated more as a middle to latter half of the rotation starter for now. Bids in excess of $10 in NL formats probably should be avoided.
Sunday, 24 November 2013 00:00
Earlier this week, my thoughts were, well the hot stove league is picking up. Then things really did kick into gear with the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder deal. Breaking the deal down from a fantasy perspective, let’s first tackle the internal roster impacts for both organizations.
For the Tigers, the shift is simple and makes a great deal of sense considering Miguel Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies. Miggy was struggling even prior to even playing through injuries this season and the swap allows the AL MVP to move across the diamond to the less demanding first base slot. Top prospect Nick Castellanos will move over to his original position of third base where the job will be his to lose in spring training. It should be noted that Castellanos’ bat plays much better at third rather than left field. As a potential .280/20-plus HR hitter, he moves from being a mediocre/average regular outfielder to one of the better third basemen in a rather thin talent pool. Kinsler fills the void created by Omar Infante’s free agency while Andy Dirks will stay in left field provided the Tigers are done tinkering with their lineup.
Over in Texas, much like Castellanos, Jurickson Profar will take over the vacated position of second base while Fielder will primarily DH and receive occasional starts at 1B. The Rangers, unlike the Tigers, still look like a team that needs to make a few moves as they are still without a primary catcher or left fielder with the departure of David Murphy and free agency of A.J. Pierzynski.
On the performance side of things, as has been well documented, Fielder moves to a park that heavily favors left-handed power hitters. At first glance, Fielder appears to have been in a three-year power decline, managing just 25 homers in 2013. The change is not really in the amount of fly balls Fielder is hitting, but certainly in the amount of fly balls turning into homers, dropping almost 8% over those three seasons. Fielder is still a disciplined hitter who makes remarkable contact for a power hitter, and at 29 years of age, it seems a bit early to call him washed up.
Ian Kinsler‘s recent performance raises a few more red flags. Yes, Kinsler should be one of the more valuable second basemen heading into 2014 as a good hitter with some pop, speed and very good plate discipline skills, but his overall package has shown some notable signs of decline. Kinsler's power production was not all that different from his 2012 campaign in which he received 100 more plate appearances, but he appears to have now transitioned to a teens HR hitter rather than the 20, if not 30-HR threat he once was. The shift from Texas to Detroit will not make a rebound any easier. The other issue is a decline in overall speed and increasing caught-stealing rates. Whilenew skipper Brad Ausmus, a smart base runner known to steal a few bags during his own career, is likely to encourage his players to run, Kinsler will not get the green light if he cannot do better than a 58% success rate.
In a more surprising fashion than the Ian Kinsler trade, the Royals signed Jason Vargas to a four-year deal. It is not surprising that Vargas got a multi-year deal: just the length of it. The move fills the void created by the likely departure of Ervin Santana via free agency and shifts Wade Davis back to the bullpen, giving rotation opportunities to Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Davis proved in 2012 that he could be a dominant bullpen arm and showed signs of it again last year when he was moved out of the rotation.
Over the past several seasons, Vargas has been fairly reliable showing his trademark control. A soft-tosser, Vargas somehow improved his strikeout rates above the 6-plus threshold in 2013 despite throwing softer and showing no real change in pitch selection or skill. It has the stink of an outlier and regression should be expected. It should also be noted that Vargas has been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career and had been shielded for the last several years by playing in the cozy confines of Safeco Field, not to mention Angel Stadium, which has been even more home run friendly for pitchers. Vargas fills a void in the Royals rotation, but does so beside Jeremy Guthrie as a capable, but unspectacular innings eater. Keep you ERA expectations in the mid 4’s for Vargas and you might earn a profit should you decide to draft him.
Murphy to Cleveland
David Murphy, 32, signed a two-year pact with the Tribe, where he is penciled in as their right fielder. Murphy frustrated many a fantasy owner and Ranger fan alike last year with his dismal performance. That said, the skills he showed were not all that different from years past as Murphy once again hit the low to mid-double digits in home runs while demonstrating a disciplined approach at the plate. A .227 BABIP contrasted against his .302 career mark was a significant culprit for that line and a rebound is quite possible, though of course Murphy has never been a particularly high ceiling player anyway and is now moving into the latter stages of his career.
It should be noted that Murphy has had some fairly wide platoon splits with respect to lefties and should not be expected to top the 500 plate appearance mark like he did with Texas in 2012. Even though he has been technically listed as the starting right fielder, it is more likely that he platoons with the right-handed Ryan Raburn. For now, expect 450 to 470 plate appearances with a .270/.335 line along with 12 to 15 home runs. In recent seasons, Murphy had been good for 10-plus steals, but he has not been a high percentage stealer since 2010 and was successful in only 1 of 4 attempts in 2013. That part of Murphy’s game may have dried up and any steals can be seen as a bonus. I would not be surprised to see Murphy reduced to more of a fourth outfielder capacity in the second year of this deal as the Indians look to upgrade their offense.
Hot Stove Sneak Peek: Second Base
Sunday, 10 November 2013 00:00
The middle infield free agent crop has a strong feel of Robinson Cano, and then everyone else. Well when you hit no fewer than 25 homers along with a .310 average, and slug over .500 for four straight seasons there is a reason. Earlier in his career, Cano’s OBP was much more directly tied to his ability to hit for average given an overly aggressive approach. What makes Cano more attractive now is that he has indeed, three out of the past four seasons shown much more discipline which have has allowed him to post OBPs around the .380 range, making his long-term viability as a starter strong. An impressive part of Cano’s game has been despite career-long fairly low fly ball rates (31%) and 40%-plus ground ball rates, Cano has been regularly been able to turn a significant percentage of those few fly balls into home runs. With other players this is often an area of concern and is something to be monitored closely as Cano enters his mid-thirties.
Stephen Drew received his most plate appearances since 2010 and given a good glove and a fair amount of pop for his position, will draw significant amount of interest. Once a fairly strong contact hitter who could hit for average, Drew’s strikeout rates have become more pronounced in recent seasons. That coupled with significant struggles (sub .200 in 2013) against left-handed pitching may continue to keep Drew’s batting average south of .260. On the up side though, if Drew can remain healthy and increase his at-ats, 20 home runs is a possibility.
Despite the 50-game suspension, Jhonny Peralta is still one of the most desirable shortstops on the market. Defensively Peralta has long been thought to be better off at the hot corner, but he can play shortstop adequately enough. The 31-year old is a fair bet for mid-teens home run production and from that skills should derive most of his interest in fantasy play. Batting average for Peralta has been a crap shoot given wild fluctuations in his BABIP. For example, Peralta’s .303 batting average this season was driven by a career high .374 BABIP. Meanwhile in 2012, a .275 BABIP suppressed Peralta to a .239 batting average. Purchases of Peralta should be paying for the pop from shortstop and viewing a .270-plus batting average as gravy with a note of caution that Peralta did produce his highest strikeout rate in 5 seasons in 2013.
Mark Ellis served as the Dodgers’ primary second basemen for each of the past two seasons, but has been sent on to greener pastures in favor of Alexander Guerrero. Ellis, a solid defender at the keystone, really has not been all that worthy of note for fantasy purposes since 2007. A disciplined, contact hitter, Ellis suprises once in a while and still manages to hit for average, but his pop has diminished over time. It is unlikely that he’ll get another chance to start at age 36, but could still be valuable in a utility role.
Omar Infante has been a cost effective option for fantasy players as a good contact batter who has proven to be a .270s hitter at minimum and occasional .300 hitter, good for double-digits pop and a few stolen bases. A .333 BABIP is a bit over his head even though he makes contact more than 90% when contrasted against his career mark, so a slight batting average regression is likely, but otherwise the soon to be 32-year old likely has another good year or two left in him given the steadiness of his other skills and tendencies.
Kelly Johnson, who will be 32 at the start of the 2014 season has, established a fairly strong track record as a second basemen with good power skills, some speed, and an ability to draw walks. The issue, however, has been over each of the past three seasons Johnson has gone from a fair contact hitter who could hit in the .270s or higher to someone who has struck out around a quarter of the time over the past three seasons and has become a .220s hitter as a result. To add to Johnson’s misery, the lefty suddenly struggled mightily against righties rather and posted wide platoon splits. In recent seasons, Johnson was simply unable to hit pitching regardless of handedness. It is unclear, as it was with Ellis, whether Johnson will even be given an opportunity to play regularly in 2014, though unlike Ellis, Johnson still has fairly good offensive tools which offer a little ray of hope.
For years Brian Roberts was one of the top tier second basemen in the American League. He was also a model of consistency and durability. It is shocking to realize that the last time one could say that about him was 2009. At 36 it is unclear whether the Orioles or some other team will bring him back in any capacity other than backup. It does not help that he does not have much positional flexibility beyond second base. In Roberts’ favor, he did show some pop and occasional speed, and an approach close to his career norms, so there’s a small chance there’s something left in the tank.
Others Free Agent Middle Infielders: Robert Andino, Willie Bloomquist, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, John McDonald, Nick Punto, Brendan Ryan, Ramon Santiago, Skip Schumaker, Chris Valaika, Josh Wilson,
Signed: Mark DeRosa, Yunel Escobar Alexander Guerrero, Derek Jeter, Ben Zobrist.
Hot Stove Sneak Peek: First Base
Friday, 01 November 2013 00:00
As we begin our look at the potential first base free agent pool, it is notable that perhaps the best one has already been signed. Jose Abreu signed a six-year deal with the White Sox. The Cuban is 26 years old, is defensively limited to first base and is said to have plus-power. It remains to be seen how his plate discipline and power will translate to the American game. The White Sox had considerable success with Cuban players Jose Contreras, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. Then when you consider the success of other recent Cuban position players like Kendrys Morales, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, the likelihood Abreu is a legitimate MLB everyday player is pretty high. While each player has their own individual skills and talents, there have been some commonalities amongst this group in terms of plate approach. Generally speaking, they are fairly aggressive hitters who walk less than 10% of the time. While not OBP machines, these Cuban hitters have not been strikeout machines either. Even the least successful of this group – Dayan Viciedo, has a career 21.5% strikeout rate, which is not an egregious mark and has made him a career .264 hitter. As of right now, I would utilize Cespedes (minus the speed) and Morales as my baseline for valuing Abreu for next year, though I will also note that he has a swing and power potential that has been compared to current MLB studs like Miguel Cabrera. I would suspect bidding for him ends up being somewhat risk adverse and will probably peter out in the high teens to low-twenties in AL-only leagues. That would put him at around the value range of Morales albeit with higher upside.
Speaking of Morales, Kendrys produced the following lines:
2012: 22 HR 61 R 73 RBI 0 SB
2013: 23 HR 64 R 80 RBI 0 SB
Looks like a model of consistency, right? Well, not quite. 2013 was accomplished over 22 more games and 135 more plate appearances. Still, Morales was actually a better hitter in 2013, making more contact and getting on base more frequently, setting the stage for a solid 2014 follow-up as a 30-year- old. Power production remains a concern though. The knee-jerk reaction would be to say park factors caused the power outage and while this may be somewhat true, the difference between Anaheim and Safeco in 2013 in home runs had them both almost on par. In fact, Morales' HR/FB numbers varied only by 0.3% and in favor of at home. The switch-hitter has hit fly balls 32.5% or less each of the past three seasons, making a return to the 25-plus HR level far less likely. So although Morales still has some productivity left within his skill set, he should not be viewed as an upper echelon first baseman.
Corey Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to a knee injury. Odds are the soon to be 32-year-old will re-up with the Brewers, but a player who hit no fewer than 26 home runs in any of his three previous seasons is likely to draw interest. Hart has done a good job of making contact for most of his career, allowing him to hit for decent average despite wielding a right-handed bat. His 2012 campaign, despite the 30 HR output, did raise some red flags as Hart produced the most extreme strikeout rate of his career. If the plate approach does not return towards career norms and his wheels are not fully recovered from surgery, it may be difficult for Hart to keep his batting average around his career .276 mark.
Mike Napoli, who turned 32 yesterday, almost didn’t sign with the Red Sox due to contract issues and was instead forced to sign a $5M incentive-laden deal. In the end, he wound up earning most of, if not all of those incentives, proving he was indeed quite healthy. Napoli is what he is: an all or nothing hitter who walks often and strikes out about a third of the time. His .259 batting average was spurred by a .367 BABIP. In other words, keep 2012 and 2010 in your memory as that level of regression is quite possible. Draft for his power with the expectation of having to make up for his batting average elsewhere and you won’t be disappointed.
Adam Lind bounced back nicely from a lost 2012 season with a very similar season to his 2011 and 2010 campaigns. The lefty has a $7M option with a $2M buyout and at that price is likely to be brought back for one more year as a 1B/DH. However, his difficulties against lefties (.219/.261/.342 for his career will continue to limit his playing time.
Paul Konerko could return to the White Sox for one more year, but the Jose Abreu signing casts a cloud over that. Entering 2013, Konerko’s skills and power remained rock steady until he suffered a back injury which robbed him of his power and ruined his season. Konerko’s plate approach actually remained intact and a rebound is a possibility, but given the tendency of back injuries to recur and the fact that Konerko will turn 38 before the start of the season makes him both a risky selection and a potential bargain.
Justin Morneau, 32, has not produced as a top tier first baseman since 2010 and arguably not since 2009 from a power perspective. The lefty did manage to recover from post-concussion syndrome but is now more of a mid-tier sub-$20, if not sub-$15 purchase in single-league formats. Morneau still makes fairly good contact but has not been reliable in the batting average department unless his power is functioning at a higher level. Morneau’s power, even before the concussion, had been trending downwards and has done so for four straight seasons. That leaves him as a .260s to .270s hitter at best with mid to high-teens per season HR power, in other words a corner infielder possibility. It will be interesting to see if Morneau is even given offers as an everyday player this offseason.
The Rays found an effective, but low-cost option in James Loney to be their 2013 starting first baseman. The 29-year-old, however, has long since peaked as a good contact hitter with gap power. Sadly, Loney is more likely to regress than improve after posting a career high 30% line-drive rate without any other changes to his game.
Other First Basemen on the Market, but unlikely to receive everyday jobs: Lyle Overbay (failed to compile even a .300 OBP. More of a bat off the bench now), Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds (actually is not all that different from Mike Napoli, but has not hit above .221 since 2009) and Lance Berkman (may retire).
Hot Stove Sneak Peek: The Catchers
Sunday, 20 October 2013 00:00
Only two teams remain in the postseason, which leaves the fans of the other 28 teams mostly looking towards the Hot Stove League. With that in mind, it is time to peek at the free agent market with a look at the backstops.
The big name here is Brian McCann. The 30-year-old is also one of the youngest potential free agent catchers with only Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming in under 30. McCann was limited due to injuries and struggled to hit for average for the second consecutive season but actually managed to show more power per plate appearance than ever, posting the highest HR/FB ratio of his career (16.3%). Given the context of his career and absent a move to a better home run hitter’s park, this will probably regress. Otherwise, McCann is generally an unchanged player possessing above average plate discipline skills. McCann has noticeably lost speed and given little change in where he hits the ball (a 22% line drive rate to boot), that may be the main culprit in the decline of his batting average. McCann now owns a career .289 BABIP. A slight rise from his .261 BABIP performance back towards career norms could once again make him a .270s hitter
Moving on, we come back to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This season, Salty received the most playing time of his career and responded with his highest ever batting average. While not the power peak of 2012 in which he hit 25 homers, this could well be a career year given the fluky-looking .372 BABIP and nearly 30% line drive rate. That combination most assuredly will result in a regression given Saltalamacchia’s penchant for striking out nearly one-third of the time. The .240 batting average range should be expected, and given his history it could be even worse. By the same token, Salty is capable of an uptick in power but that won’t offset the loss in batting average. Don’t get caught paying for his 2013 performance next year.
Former top prospect Dioner Navarro came back from the dead with the Cubs, hitting .300 and mashing 13 homers in 266 plate appearances. Navarro has frustrated many in the past due to his lack of results despite good plate discipline and modest power potential. Like many catchers, Navarro is not the fastest of runners, so a repeat .300-plus batting average may be a difficult feat. It should be noted that Navarro’s 25% line drive rate and nearly 19% HR/FB rates are fairly deviant from the rest of his career and should regress, though it will be interesting to see what will happen over a larger sample. Unlike many other catchers here, Navarro is unlikely to be a bargain as some owners will undoubtedly chase into his potential value by extrapolating what the righty could have accomplished with more plate apperances. While admittedly it is tempting to chase that potential, it is playing with fire given no prior precedent for such an offensive outburst.
A.J. Pierzynski will turn 37 before the year ends and even though he had a .297 OBP this year, he may be one of the better free agent options. The lefty remains an aggressive contact hitter with mid-teens or better home run power. Pierzynski continues to show off his remarkable durability, compiling his highest plate appearance total since 2009 with 529 in 2013. Provided a starting job, Pierzynski is still a $10 to $15 player in single league formats for 2014 and may not command as much given his age and a possible move away from Arlington, so he could be a bargain.
It feels like yesterday that I was writing a prospect profile of Carlos Ruiz, but he’ll be 35 prior to opening day. Ruiz missed time due to suspension this year as well as a hand injury. The now not so surprising power displayed in 2012 evaporated. Ruiz also was not the disciplined hitter he had been in the past, playing a bit like A.J. Pierzynski minus the power. It remains to be seen what capacity Ruiz will play in next year, but if given the opportunity to start, he has the skills to hit in the .260 to .270 range or better with mid to high single-digit HR power. Keep your expectations low and you may get a bargain.
John Buck was the buzz of the early season with his hot streak. The 33-year-old will continue to gain employment but will likely increasingly be used as a backup as he enters the latter years of his career. The book on Buck is well known as a hitter with legitimate 20-homer power, but because of his aggressiveness is very prone to peak and death valley streaks. Buck does not have much of a career platoon split. He simply struggles to hit for average against all pitching and is a career .230s hitter against lefties and righties alike. The best type of job he can hope for is as a stop-gap much the same to the one he fulfilled with the Mets, but his power and occasional hot streaks keep him on the fantasy radar as a second catcher in deeper leagues.
Not too long ago, I would have expected Kurt Suzuki to be right behind Brian McCann on this list. Instead, he is a catcher with an expensive option that will likely be bought out. The righty enjoyed promising campaigns in 2008 and 2009 and continued to be a very durable starter for the A’s through 2011, but despite maintaining mid-teens home run power and a contact- oriented approach, Suzuki’s ability to hit for average and get on base fell to unacceptable levels and he's now endured three straight seasons of hitting in the .230s while seeing his OBP fall to .309 for his career. The result has him back on a back-up career path and potentially even less playing time than in 2013 (316 plate appearances), especially since his power has dried up. The first season of a .245 BABIP contrasted against his career suggested a rebound, but now Suzuki has produced .240s BABIPs in three of the past four years. A rebound, barring a resurgence of power, seems unlikely even though age is on his side.
Of the remaining catchers, Brayan Pena is worth mentioning as an aggressive contact hitter who has value as a $1 catcher when he hits for average. In order to do that, his BABIP has to be above .300, which is a difficult feat for a slow-running singles hitter. A return to the .250 range is a distinct possibility.
Other Catcher free agents: Henry Blanco, Ramon Hernandez, Jose Molina, Wil Nieves, Humberto Quintero, Kelly Shoppach, Geovany Soto, Yorvit Torrealba.
Friday, 20 September 2013 00:00
Last week’s column regarding rule changes for September quasi-disabled list players evoked some further thoughts. Such a rule change is what I would term a gentleman’s rule. To put it simply, you want to win, but in what fashion?
I admit, I typically have taken the shark approach, using the rules to my advantage. If there’s a loophole, use it. If an action isn’t specifically prohibited, do it. You do whatever it takes to win, as long as it’s legal. Sometimes though, winning this way can feel a bit hollow, particularly with respect to injuries as they impact your competitors. This is applicable to just about any fantasy sport and like with the September injury rules, you want to at least give your opponent the ability to fix their roster and still compete.
So moving beyond September and just baseball to football, it is a common situation, team A loses Eddie Lacy to a concussion and he may miss a week. James Starks is coming off a good game replacing Lacy and is on the free agent wire in many, if not most leagues. You’re playing the team with Eddie Lacy the coming week and manage to grab Starks, who you can either use to improve your own roster for this week or simply to block your opponent from getting points.
On the one hand, you can say “That’s perfectly legal. Starks was up for grabs. You were quicker or put in a stronger bid and you got him fair and square.” You can pat yourself on the back for job well done, knowing you just increased your odds of winning this coming week.
On the other hand, what is the harm that the team or teams suffering an injury get first dibs on the player’s most likely replacement? By allowing first dibs to occur, you allow things to balance, somewhat anyway. Most likely, the team getting the replacement is already suffering from likely having lost a superior player for some amount of time. Whether you are competing in fantasy football or fantasy baseball, when you do not grant “first dibs”, you may create a downward spiral whereby they lose out on a player that could have saved or at least let them tread water. Then, if they have any further injuries, the problem can become more compounded until they are quickly out of competition and might in the case of redraft leagues, become a dead team.
Some leagues might go so far as to require that if team B has team A’s backup, that they might have to engineer a trade so everyone has a healthy/competitive roster. I don’t think I could advocate such a rule. Players already rostered, at least in my humble opinion, should be sacred.
I am not 100% sold on playing with a “first dibs” rule though I might be interested in testing it out as an experiment. I am not sold because there are legitimate counter arguments to be made.
The argument that stands out the most to me is research. This may typically be more apparent in AL and NL-only baseball leagues where having a deep knowledge of the player pool is paramount, but it is certainly a factor in mixed baseball and fantasy football leagues too.
If a team loses a player to injury, they should have to at least put in the time and effort to figure out who is likely to get the playing time. If a team owner automatically gets “dibs”, then that owner does not have to do any research at all and it levels the playing field in favor of more casual owners. Part of the glory of playing fantasy sports is being able to point towards your prowess of grabbing potential keepers or key players who put you over the top. There’s nothing exciting about some team lucking its way into an organization’s next stud rookie simply because he is getting called up to replace an injured veteran. That player should be on the free market for all to acquire.
So while I believe there is room for instituting some Gentleman’s rules, there are some boundaries that perhaps should not be crossed less civility trump competitiveness and the free agent market to a degree that it takes the fun out of playing fantasy sports. It is a matter of finding that fine line.
Curing the Ellsbury Blues
Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00
Are you a Jacoby Ellsbury owner? I am, and I’m just a few points out of first place in my highly completive local keeper league and tied with my main opponent in stolen bases. But, I have been unable to activate Lorenzo Cain and his 2-plus stolen bases this week because the Red Sox haven’t placed Ellsbury on the disabled list.
Now of course, no one wants to hear me rant about my woes and the common refrain “no one cares about your fantasy but you” certainly applies, but this is an opportunity to address an old issue in keeper and non-keeper leagues alike that occurs every single September.
From a real baseball perspective, it’s a strategy. Obviously, rosters have expanded and the key personnel most likely to replace an injured player have already been brought up. Therefore, there is no reason to place a player on the disabled list unless there is a critical need. In the case of Ellsbury, who is expected to return at some yet to be determined time this year, we may be seeing a situation where the Sox do not want to risk putting him on the DL and potentially missing out on having him in the lineup should he be able to return in less than the minimum disabled list stay.
Back to the world of fantasy baseball, the common rule is unless a player is officially on the disabled list, you cannot disable them. Some may say “so what, it forces a tough decision. If you are competing for first and need stolen bases, go for it and release Ellsbury (since in most leagues it's past the trade deadline) and activate Cain or risk losing.”
On the flip side, one might say “If real MLB teams are strategizing and taking advantage of rules (the September roster expansion in this case), why shouldn’t I be afforded the same opportunity?” So while this does not help me this year in a keeper league that uses a minor league taxi squad and disabled list as my only non-active roster options, what options are available to consider for future seasons as rule changes?
Convert to a reserve roster
On the positive side, a simple reserve roster simplifies a league. If done without having a separate disabled list or minor league roster, and a simple maximum of slots (4, 6, 8, etc), then owners would have the luxury to address active roster issues like with Ellsbury above, but they may have to make tough decisions regarding other injured players and potential minor league keepers depending upon the number of slots available. Though simple, this solution has its downsides. If a team is beset by injuries and the roster size is too small, they end up having to sacrifice their keepers/trade bait and may not be able to get back on track. On the other hand, if the reserve roster size allowed is too large, then it can have potential problems, including reducing the size of the available free agent pool or creating a league of stockpilers where trades and owner interaction become less necessary.
Use a Hybrid Reserve Roster/Disabled List
This is what Tout Wars does. A 4-man reserve roster which can consist of any player whether they are in the minors or majors and an unlimited disabled list. For redraft leagues, this might be the ideal configuration. It does not penalize teams that have to deal with injuries, but provides a very limited mechanism whereby teams can speculate on a few minor leaguers during the reserve round on draft day and/or stash backups for the higher risk players on their roster, particularly in AL and NL-only leagues. The small reserve roster does indeed force an owner to make tough decisions at key points over the course of the season. For keeper leagues, this could work too, but would be on the small side of things and could penalize rebuilding teams by giving them less of an advantage/less of a reason to dump for the following season. Some leagues might prefer that type of arrangement, but it would not favor those leagues that enjoy aggressive rebuilding and “going for it” efforts via trades.
Special September Rule
This may make the most sense to me, especially as someone who does not favor reserve rosters in keeper leagues but rather a limited minor league roster and an unlimited disabled roster. I generally prefer that if a player is on an active MLB roster, they should either be a free agent, on waivers or on someone’s team and not stashed away (transaction/activation grace periods aside).
MLB baseball allows rosters to expand, so why shouldn’t fantasy leagues? If you want to be strict, let teams utilize a single reserve roster spot only available to them from September 1 on for any MLB player not formally placed on the disabled list.
If you want to get really strict, have the owner provide or show his common knowledge that a player would be on the disabled list if not for the 40-man roster expansion. This, however, since it is not tied to any official baseball act, could potentially get tricky and become a divisive issue and potentially destroy a league depending on the circumstances. It may be best just to keep it simple and unofficial, allowing any active roster player to be reserved.
Finally, one item to keep teams from possibly abusing this is that if an owner does indeed utilize the September reserve spot, then immediately after the season (before allowing trades again and after removing all players whose long-term contracts have expired), the owner should have to release a player back into the free agent pool from either their active roster or that reserve spot, making one player ineligible to be kept.
These are just some suggestions for dealing with the inevitable September injured but not disabled player limbo. I’d be happy to hear about the way your leagues handle these issues and how the configuration of reserve, disabled and minor league rosters have evolved over the years.
Pressing for Playing Time
Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00
When the Twins received 28-year-old journeyman outfielder Alex Presley in return for Justin Morneau from the Pirates, a knee jerk reaction might have been that the Twins received a fourth outfielder at best for their long time, impending free agent first baseman, Justin Morneau.
While that profile might be the long-term end result, Presley has been receiving regular playing time as the Twins’ starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter all this week. The lefty has had two extended opportunities in the Majors with the Pirates, the second resulting in a .237/.279/.405 line compared to his .298/.339/.465 line in his first go around. At the MLB level, he has indeed demonstrated that there may be high single-digit power/20-plus stolen base potential. At times, Presley has also been able to translate his contact-making skills to the Majors. What has not come along has been the plate discipline. Instead, for the most part, Presley has shown himself to be overly aggressive and quite the opposite of his minor league style. For example this year, Presley produced a .298/.376/.427 line along with a 10% walk rate and 14% strikeout rate.
More than likely, the Twins will attempt to utilize both Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia in their starting outfield in 2014, but that does leave openings for competition in an organization that rarely invests much money on the free agent market, making Presley’s progress and role with the team definitely worth noting for AL-only leaguers.
The Mariners, as part of their September call-ups, added lefty James Paxton to their 40-man roster. Seattle will be moving to a 6-man rotation and Paxton is scheduled to make his MLB debut this coming Saturday. Paxton appeared to be on the fast track after his 2011 season, but dealt with injuries and control problems that lowered his stock somewhat in 2012. His 2013 performance has not been all roses either as he sports a 4.45 ERA and saw his strikeout numbers drop a full point, but did at least see his control improve by a point, a much more important item. Paxton is a hard throwing lefty with a mid to upper nineties fastball and plus curve. After 28 starts at Triple-A this season, he should compete for a rotation spot next spring.
To contrast, Brandon Maurer, who was a surprise winner of a rotation spot this past spring, is also back in the Majors, but serving in a long relief capacity. Maurer was unable to right his ship after his demotion, posting a 5+ walk per nine and a 5+ ERA. There is still middle of the rotation potential here and he is someone very much in need of a fresh start/new season. It is unclear where he fits into the Mariners' long-term plans now, and as a result, he could end up trade bait.
Players to be Named Later
Two players to be named later were dealt this week. Unfortunately, neither pitcher is likely to make any significant splashes.
The Diamondbacks acquired Matt Langwell (Kubel deal) from the Indians while the Brewers acquired Michael Blazek from the Cardinals (Axford deal).
Langwell, 27, is a former 11th round draft pick out of Rice University. A journeyman reliever, Langwell has had two fairly solid back to back seasons at Triple-A for the Tribe, throwing strikes and missing some bats, though he did suffer a near 3.0 decline in the strikeout rate department from 2012 to 2013. He could see some middle relief action in Arizona or could just as easily continue to be used as an organizational player.
Michael Blazek, 24, is a former 35th round draft pick out of Arbor View High School. He made his MLB debut with the Cardinals earlier this year and is now up in the Brewers’ bullpen. Blazek is a fairly hard thrower who averages around 95 mph on his fastball. He also uses a curve, slider and a changeup. Throwing strikes, even at the minor league level, is somewhat elusive for Blazek and like Langwell, a return to Triple-A next season is the most likely outcome.
Friday, 26 July 2013 00:00
Many of the moves this past week involve prospects receiving or close to getting the opportunity to claim a MLB job. So its carpe diem, especially in Miami.
The Miami Marlins, armed with a 37-62 record, elected to start the arbitration clocks of their two most promising players by bringing up both Jake Marisnick and Christian Yelich. This past spring, I had included both players as potential impact prospects for the 2013 season as it was likely the Marlins might want to get both players’ respective feet wet in a low-pressure situation.
Marisnick, acquired in the massive deal with the Blue Jays late last year, has been long noted for tools, but not so much on actual production. The 22-year-old was having a solid, though unspectacular (.294/.358/.502), season in Double-A, showing his 20-20 potential with 12 HRs and 11 steals. However, the righty has still shown the same fairly aggressive approach with a strikeout rate above 20% and walk rate of less than 6%. Marisnick will be the Marlins’ starting centerfielder for now and perhaps long term. Keep in mind, however, that Marisnick may not be quite ready to make the jump from Double-A straight to the Majors and could struggle at first. Long term, I have concerns regarding his ability to be more than a wrong-side of the split platoon player, but also see him as a potential Chris Young type, though to Young’s credit, he at least is a somewhat patient hitter.
Of the two, Christian Yelich is the superior player to target. The 21-year-old has not necessarily put up the power/speed numbers of Marisnick this season, but he has shown an ability to translate his palte discipline skills to the higher levels of the Minors (.280/.365/.518). While the ball is not necessarily going out of the park, Yelich does have 46 extra base hits. Like Marisnick, Yelich’s bat is more of a centerfield bat projecting upper teens to low-twenties HR power, but 20-plus stolen base potential. Given a pretty advanced approach, I am more confident in Yelich’s ability to adjust to the Majors than Marisnick, but note that Yelich’s strikeout rates did leap upwards of 20% and another leap could further exacerbate his difficulties with making contact.
Brewers Get their Steak
Francisco Rodriguez’s strong season allowed the Brewers to pry Nick Delmonico from the Orioles this past week. Injuries have reduced the Brewers to a platoon of Juan Francisco and Sean Halton, and there is a need for organizational depth at the position. Delmonico, 21, is a ways away from helping on the MLB front, but could eventually. The lefty has enough power potential for the position and a patient approach to exploit it. That said, Delmonico has not at all dominated any level of play, hitting in the .240s in A+ ball despite power and a good approach. This may be somewhat attributable to having sub-par wheels and overall makes it somewhat difficult to see him as an everyday player.
Sticking with the Brewers, they had to recall Khris Davis from Triple-A in light of the Ryan Braun suspension. Davis was also amongst my preseason potential impact players, though the likelihood seemed little given the presence of Braun. Well, I guess that’s one way to get rid of a road block, at least temporarily. Davis continued to show a good plate approach with some pop in Triple-A this season, but failed to hit for average as he had last season. Davis does not really project to hit for a high average at the MLB level regardless, but could be an upper teens to low-twenties power hitter given the opportunity. For now, the righty will serve as the lesser portion of a platoon with Logan Schafer.
The Garza Spoils
While a player or two is yet to be named, the Cubs did hook Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and C.J. Edwards already from the Rangers in exchange for Matt Garza.
Olt was potentially an odd man out in Texas even if he had been healthy and having a good season given the middle infield depth and Adrian Beltre at third base. With Chicago, the obstacles towards playing time are substantially reduced, so the questions are reduced to health and getting his swing back. When on his game, Olt is a highly disciplined right-handed hitter with mid to upper twenties home run power. He should be able to provide good OBP numbers, but given his handedness and strikeout rates, it is possible he may be more of a .250’s to .270 hitter.
Grimm saw plenty of action earlier this year with the Rangers and plenty of ups and downs too. The nearly 25-year-old may have posted a 6+ ERA in 17 starts but still showed very solid underlying peripherals with a 6.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 against a .347 BABIP and 64% left-on-base rate, not to mention a 14% home run per fly ball rate! While Grimm has never profiled as an upper end of the rotation starter, the righty does possess three quality pitches, and a change of scenery to the NL along with more experience could turn his very young career around.
C.J. Edwards is in his first year of full-season ball and having good success, posting an 11.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Edwards is more of a long-term project than either Olt or Grimm, who are both almost MLB ready, though Edwards does have middle of the rotation potential as well.
Travis D’Arnaud is back on the field in A-ball. It will be interesting to see how quickly he can make it back to Triple-A and whether he will merit a September call-up in an attempt to perhaps claim the 2014 starting job.
Tampa Bay prospect Taylor Guerrieri underwent Tommy John surgery this past week, meaning 2014 is a loss as well. At 20 years of age, he has plenty of time to recover and still make the Majors at a young age, but figure his time frame for doing so, if he remains healthy, is now inching towards the latter half of this decade.
Rob Leibowitz has been playing fantasy baseball for over twenty years and has been writing as an analyst for 15 years. You can find his columns “The Diamond Exchange” and “The Prospector” here at Mastersball.com. A member of Tout Wars since 2001, you can follow him on twitter at @Rob_Leibowitz.